Character Connection: Major Ernest Pettigrew (and his wife)

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Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved Major Pettigrew from the book by Helen Simonson. I don’t always do well with military types. I look all meek and mild, but the minute I’m given anything that even remotely resembles an order, I dig in my heels. That’s not really the best way to get on with men who are used to having their orders obeyed.

But Major Pettigrew is a little different. Well, a lot different once you get to know him. From my review:

“There was so much more to the Major than I expected. I expected some sort of repressed “Right-o, carry on then” kind of bore. To paraphrase another character, the Major isn’t bad for an old git. I laughed so many times at his dry one-liners. They were made all the funnier because he mostly said them around people who completely missed them. One wouldn’t want to seem impolite, now would one? He has definite ideas about Proper Behavior and the Right Thing to Do, but he’s also flexible enough to pursue a relationship with a Pakistani woman. He sees past their obvious differences, ignores all the idiots blabbing on tv about relations with the Middle East, and sees through to the beautiful kindred spirit within. He’s also got a big streak of the Knight in Shining Armor.”

There are a few things that saved him. First of all, I think he just fell into the military more because it was expected of him as the eldest son of a soldier. I don’t think he was truly temperamentally suited to the army life. After he left the army, he became an English teacher at a boys’ school. A reader. Don’t we all love men who read?

Peter O'Toole
I pictured the Major as Peter O’Toole

The biggest thing that kept him from becoming an old stick in the mud was his wife, Nancy, who passed away from cancer before this story started. She was a free spirit. She might not be fully present in the story, but her memory is strong. I got the impression that she was a bit of a hippie back in her youth. I don’t think she ever quite gave that up. She resisted the temptation to stagnate in a small village and she made sure the Major didn’t get too comfortable in his rut either. She was outspoken about injustices that she perceived, however small. She constantly laughed at the upper crust in the village when they got “too big for their britches,” as we say in my part of the world.

So now I’m pondering a few things. I think the Major only grudgingly went along with her at times. So I wonder what happened after he lost her to change his response? Was he trying to live up to her memory? Had he resisted some of her ideas out of sheer habit and/or contrariness? Did it just take losing her to open his eyes to the many ways that she was right? I don’t know, but I’m glad that he turned out the way he did.

The Major turned out to be a charmer. Even though this particular story would never have happened if she had still been around, I wish that I had gotten to read a little more about Nancy as well. She seems like someone that I would love to read more about.

Who’s your favorite book-loving male character?

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Character Connection

Who do ya love?

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I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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1 Comment

  1. Roger, He was such the quintessential Nouveau riche. Chasing everything he thinks will bring him happiness, myopic to all else.

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